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Doing Your Homework: The Start to Municipal Music Strategy Development

by Lynn Ross

So, you’re thinking your city needs a music strategy? Great idea! Where should you start?

First things first: read The Mastering of a Music City (2015, Music Canada and IFPI). This publication is a roadmap to building a “music city” and you should have a copy on your desk at all times. Next, connect with people who have done this work. Every city is different but the power of the Music Policy Forum network is access to a vibrant network of public officials, musicians, researchers, organizers, non-profit leaders and others who are eager to share lessons learned and potential roadblocks. Come to our events or just pick up the phone – the network is ready to help you.

Next - get organized. Convene a small (6-8) group of people from your music community; producer, educator, record label, music publisher, entertainment lawyer, music journalist, publicist, venue operator, agent, manager, etc., and please don’t leave out an artist! This group should be as diverse as possible (I’m spelling out people of color, women, and LGBTQ2+ so there isn’t any confusion) and represent non-profit and for-profit sectors. If there is already a music industry association in your province/state, start there; they will likely have these contacts and fancy letterhead. Set up regular meetings with this group and elect a chairperson. Give this group a name; it will sound more official. And a shared document drive will help keep you organized.

As a group, read and discuss Mastering of a Music City – in many cases this language and approach is new and different. It’s critical for your core organizing group to be on the same page regarding mission, potential outcomes and objectives for this work.

Do your homework!

Research the structure of how your city operates. If you live in a large city, this will take time. There could be many different departments that touch music: Economic Development, Cultural Services, Special Events, Finance, Parks, Heritage, Tourism, Library, Planning, Engineering, Real Estate, etc.

Identify an elected official as your champion. Social media is a great place to start. You might be surprised to see Instagram feeds from Coachella or Burning Man, but elected officials are people too! And who doesn’t like music? Well, you’d better find out. Once you’ve identified your champion (start with your mayor, and work your way down the list of councillors by number of votes they received in the election), write a letter (on that fancy letterhead) explaining the group’s purpose—to develop a music strategy—and request a meeting. If someone in your group has a personal connection, start there; if not, email the letter to the mayor’s chief of staff, or the councillor’s assistant, and copy the targeted champion. Follow up with a phone call if you don’t hear back within a week. It may take a month or two for your meeting to be scheduled; that’s ok! You may want to time it a month out from a big music festival or conference in your city, so an announcement can be made during the event.

Define: your scope. It is unlikely that anyone who works for your municipality has the expertise to define the scope of your music ecology/economic impact study, so be proactive. Write a draft RFP (request for proposal).

Shop around: for a 3rd party research company that has experience in music ecology/economic impact study development. Prices vary! Procurement at a municipality will want to see at least three quotes.

Prepare: your ask. You will likely be asking your champion to make a motion to develop a music strategy. That’s the easy part. Human and financial resources are scarce, so prepare a budget for the music ecology/economic impact study. If you’re lucky enough to live in Canada, approach government funding agencies to offset these costs. Decide if you’re asking for human resources; it’s easier if you don’t but this will ultimately be the City’s decision. You should, however, already know which department makes the most sense for your music strategy (i.e. Economic Development, Cultural Services, etc.). Be prepared if the City is not able to invest resources this year; you can always ask for funding in next year’s budget, or the group can self-fund the music strategy.

Plan: the meeting. You will have a finite amount of time with the mayor or councillor, so use it wisely. Find out who’s going to be attending the meeting, research their positions, backgrounds, etc. A week prior to the meeting, send out a link to The Mastering of a Music City. You should have a written game plan with talking points before going into the meeting. Depending on the size of your group, decide who will attend the meeting and what they will say. **It is VERY important to have an artist in the room; the higher the profile the better.

Executing: the game plan. The chairperson should be doing most of the talking so that it’s clear s/he/they are representing the group. Make your ask early in the meeting, so that you don’t run out of time, and leave enough time for the city staff to ask questions. Towards the end of the meeting, clarify next steps if they haven’t been communicated; the elected official will likely identify a point person on their team. After the meeting, the chairperson should send an email thanking everyone for their time and reconfirm next steps.

Congratulations! Your homework has paid off!

MEGAPHONO 2019 Recap

MEGAPHONO is an annual industry conference and showcasing festival run in February (on purpose) by Jon Bartlett and Rachel Weldon, the leads behind a local-music-industry-management-company-turned-non-profit Kelp Music / MEGAPHONO.

This year was its fifth edition. The festival / conference's year-one launch was planned to coincide with the public launch of / respond to one of the needs identified in the Connecting Ottawa Music Report, a research effort that spearheaded all the industry development work that followed. The City of Ottawa worked with Kelp as one of the local private-sector leads in putting together that report so Kelp Music / MEGAPHONO has a special place in the context of all of the work that’s been done to get the industry moving in Ottawa.

This year we focussed our collaboration on the role of media in music ecosystems. With the way that corporate consolidation in the media industry has affected the coverage of local culture - decimating local arts + culture weekly publications and arts sections of major newspapers - and new provincial legislation in Ontario that looks to threaten how campus-based community radio stations are funded - one of the few places where this kind of coverage lives - the public circulatory system of cultural information is under threat. This affects both how local audiences engage with the music scene and how out-of-town audiences discover it.

In response to this challenge the City of Ottawa funded a part of the MEGAPHONO media delegation, consisting of journalists and leaders inside of international media organisations. By bringing together representatives and individuals who represent different roles across local and international media we wanted to facilitated a conversation about what the challenges are out there, who’s getting it right and how. In addition to the panel we brought our local media orgs together with MEGAPHONO’s full media delegation for a more prolonged and collegial lunch + learn session about what is happening out there in the media landscape and what our organisations can learn from successful media organisations like KCRW, Exclaim! and others to be sustainable and thrive . 

LINK TO COMMUNITY MEDIA: Growing a local media outlet into an international brand PANEL